What should I eat if I have prediabetes?

October 3, 2021

A prediabetes diagnosis does not mean Type 2 diabetes is inevitable. There are many ways to take control of your health now. Lifestyle modifications, including diet changes, are proven to help get blood sugar levels back down to normal and prevent the development of Type 2 diabetes.

What you should know about prediabetes

Prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes are characterized by the difficulty or inability to process insulin. All the extra glucose (sugar) that comes from the foods we eat, when not processed normally, ends up in our blood stream and contributes to a variety of heart-related issues. The main goal of a prediabetic diet is to 1) reduce blood sugar and 2) achieve a healthier weight.

Changing what you eat can be hard, but the payoffs are big. In fact, there's evidence that a 7 percent drop in body weight reduces the risk of developing diabetes by 60 percent. In addition to reducing your risk for heart-related issues, many people report feeling significantly better after modifying their diet. Processed foods, in particular, can lead to depression and negatively affect our wellbeing. So it’s not just about weight and blood sugar – it’s about just generally feeling better, too.

Below we offer a quick-guide to what to add or reduce in your diet if you have a prediabetes diagnosis, but here are two overarching guidelines:

  • The slower the better: digesting food slowly helps provide a steady rise in blood sugar versus the jolt of blood sugar that happens after eating simple carbs or sugary foods or drinks. Pairing your meals with foods high in fiber and protein can help slow digestion.
  • DIY when possible: it’s a lot easier to control for sugar intake when you know what goes in your food. Even something as simple as making your own salad dressing versus buying bottled ones can go a long way.

What foods should I eat if I have prediabetes?

  • Beans: the complex starch in chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, etc. helps slow the movement of food during digestion. This keeps you full longer and helps regulate blood sugar.
  • Protein: Protein can help slow digestion, but not all protein is created equal. Lean proteins – like chicken, beans, yogurt and fish – are better for you because of the sodium and saturated fat often found in red and cured meats.
  • Nuts: nuts have it all: protein, fiber, and healthy fat. They are also low in carbs and a great snack for people monitoring their blood sugar.
  • Whole grains: oats, brown rice, and whole-wheat bread are all heart-healthy choices. A 2018 study found that whole grain intake was associated with a 34 percent decreased risk of type 2 diabetes for men and a 22 percent decrease for women.

What foods should I put on the “once in awhile” list?

  • Simple carbohydrates: complex carbs have fiber, starch, and sugar, while simple carbs are just...sugar. Simple carbs include breakfast cereal, fruit juice, packaged cookies, soda, and other foods and drinks that contain refined sugar (not naturally occurring).
  • Desserts: in order to avoid a spike in blood sugar, shift to desserts with naturally occurring sugar like fruit or limit dessert to only once or twice a week.
  • Fried foods: eating fried food daily increases the risk of diabetes by 19%. If you love fried foods, you might consider getting an air fryer or cutting back on sides like fries.
  • Condiments: a lot of store-bought sauces and condiments contain high levels of sugar, like ketchup, soy sauce, and barbecue sauce. Be sure to check the label before purchasing or consider making your own. Here’s a great recipe for ketchup (but be sure to cut the sugar in half!).

Some people are able to manage their blood sugar by adding and eliminating certain foods as needed, while others thrive on the structure of a diet. If you’re looking for a structured diet to follow, experts recommend the DASH or Mediterranean diet.

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